The Norwegian Cycling Federation decided to send one woman to the 2012 Olympic Games in London in August even though it had qualified two spots. Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa, the recent winner of the European championships and the La Bresse World Cup, is definitely headed to London, but the second spot will go unfilled.
The two top candidates for the other spot were Lene Byberg and Elisabeth Sveum. Byberg, who unfortunately broken her wrist last weekend at the European Championships, has previously won World Cup races and Sveum has won a U23 World Cup race and finished third in the 2011 European Championships for U23 women. In the past two years, both women helped score the points that qualified the two spots for London.
The spot given up by Norway will go to another nation that did not initially qualify for the Games.
A controversial decision
Procycling.No reported on controversy surrounding the decision. Henrik Alpers had said on Terrengsykkel.no, "What is sad is that ... on the men's side on the road they [the Norwegian federation] has always worked to get as many athletes [to top competitions], regardless of level. The federation is not interested in having anyone there other than a gold [medal] candidate." According to Alpers, the Norwegian federation reportedly also asked Sveum's team to remain quiet about the matter so as not to interfere with the process.
Sveum was unhappy about missing out on the chance to go to the Olympics. "This is very disappointing," she said to ProCycling.No. "For off-road cycling in Norway, it is a slap in the face. We use the funds and effort to fight for Norway's two spots on the female side. Then it is a pity that the federation will not make use of both spots. For me personally, this could have been a great opportunity to learn from Gunn-Rita (Dahle Flesjå). I could have made use of it in the next Olympics."
When asked for a response on behalf of the Federation, national team manager Steffen Kjærgaard had told Procycling.No that he could not comment prior to when the federation would officially submit its decision on Monday.
While some countries will send younger racers to the Olympics who are not likely to medal, Norway is choosing to send only the medal contender in this case. Historically, countries take different approaches to filling all qualified spots. For example, Italy qualified two male mountain bikers and is sending medal candidate Marco Fontana and U23 rider Gerhard Kerschbaumer while Belgium had promised only to send a second male athlete if he met strict qualifying criteria; Sven Nys did so at the European championships last weekend, in the last race that could have qualified him; otherwise the nation would have forfeited its second male mountain bike spot.
Norway did not qualify any men for the 2012 Olympic mountain bike race.